Bob and Jim met when they were both working on the same project in the early nineties. Bob was working for Royal Mail and this was in the days when publicly owned national organisations could spend large amounts of money to buy future proof, purpose built technology to make the organisation more efficient and cost effective. Those days are, of course, long gone. In the unlikely event of someone in charge of a budget reading that sentence, s/he would have got no further than ‘spending large amounts of money’ and stopped dead.
The project was ridiculously successful and the code Jim wrote all those years ago is still working now. If you order a book from Amazon on Monday it will probably reach you on Tuesday and a not insignificant part of the reason for that is the software that Bob and Jim worked on all those years ago.
I met Jim while he was working over here, but the first time I met Jan was in California. Bob was working but as it was school summer holidays I had tagged along to hang out by the pool until he finished the project and then take a few weeks holiday. We were staying in the Long Beach Hilton (these were hard times) and one evening Jan came along to meet us and have dinner. I find Americans generally very easy to get on with, but this lady was obviously special from the start. She and Jim took us out several times and later that year hosted Bob at their mountain home when he was over on another business trip, this time on his own. The following summer, when Jan was in the UK and I was again on summer break, I took her to visit a few of the local landmarks – Avebury stone circle, Stonehenge etc. Over the years we have have always kept in touch; Jim and Jan have been to the UK on holiday a couple of times and we have taken the opportunity to catch up, but the fact that they live on almost the other side of the planet has obviously held us back, until now…
What with Bob and Jim being the biggest and oldest (sorry guys) nerds on the block, it was never going to be a problem to set up a couple of webcams, microphones and screens, and to take advantage of the relatively fast link to the internet that costs us so much each month.
Initially it was strange. Jim and Jan were there alright but they were on the telly and we were conscious that we were eight hours ahead of them. As the meal progressed and the level in the wine bottle went down however , it felt more and more natural to be chatting to our old friends and in the end I got up to make coffee and couldn’t work out what was wrong with offering them some too.
The venue at their end was much more interesting than our boring old kitchen. Jim and Jan have spent a lot of time working (and drinking) overseas, so now that they have retired and Jim has taken up brewing, what could be more natural than to convert the downstairs of their house into a bar? As you can see, it looks very much like a classic British pub, complete with pool table, pinball machine and jukebox. I was amused to hear that the jukebox originates from the sixties and looks the part, but the sound is actually being produced by an iPod. I like that – take the best from a previous generation but know that they had their limitations and make the most of living in the 21st century.
Speaking of making the most of things, It’s also worth noting that the pub contains a respectable quantity of Jim’s prize winning beer, a wine cellar (we’re in Southern California after all) and an extensive collection of single malt whiskies. Needless to say, when we were invited to visit next year, I somehow forgot my dislike of flying and just said “yes damn it, YES PLEASE”.
1 April 2015
Skype link to Southern California
Jim and I both decided to make a curry, his with chicken, mine with paneer. Neither of us has access to good naan bread so both opted for rice. We both cook from scratch, but I was pleased to note that Jim’s recipe didn’t require grinding and mixing my own spices, apologies to Madhur Jaffrey, but life’s too short for toasting cumin.
Thanks to a mix up over daylight saving time, we were an hour earlier than we had arranged and it was only 11:50am when we Skyped California. Jim and Jan took this in their stride, Jim went off to stir the curry and Jan poured herself a pint.
We chatted happily and without pause for hours. I often hear Brits say that Americans don’t understand irony but certainly as far as Jim and Jan go, this is utter bullshit. Not that they didn’t say some outlandishly foreign things like how they are going on a road trip to Oregon in their corvette (how cool is that?) and found it hard to believe and intensely amusing that we have such a thing as Maundy money – the tradition whereby the queen gives specially minted coins to the elderly and deserving peasantry on the day before Good Friday every year.
There are some more serious differences too. Our friends live in the middle of the San Bernardino mountains and it hasn’t snowed properly for two years. This means that a wild fire, which a few years ago killed several peoples and forced the evacuation of thousands of homes, is a very real possibility. It’s hard to imagine in soggy old Wales, and when Jan asked if our weather had changed at all we were able to say that no, nothing too drastic has happened here. For Southern California however, it’s a serious and ever present problem.